Writer Paul Culshaw continues his exploration of the birth of Soul music.

He was the hardest working man in show business and he took Soul music to new heights. But more than that, James Brown mixed Soul with Jazz and added even more R&B, all of which formed Funk. Funk is often based on an extended vamp on a single chord and it is a different sound and feel from straight Soul or Rhythm ‘n’ Blues music which are centered on chord progressions.

James Brown was born during the depression in The Jim Crow Southern States of America, he hustled on the streets to just survive, living a really tough life, right at the bottom of society. James dropped out of school in the 7th grade as life was  hard and the family lived in extreme poverty, it was so hard even his mom left with James ending up living with his aunt who ran a whore house.

James earned money shining shoes, sweeping out stores, washing cars and singing in talent contests. He taught himself harmonica, learned some guitar, drums and piano, with big plans to become an entertainer like Louis Jordan. In 1949, aged 16, James took part in an armed robbery and he was sent to a Juvenile Detention Centre upstate in Taccoa for this, he served his time!

The career of James Brown began in earnest in 1955 with a group called The Gospel Starlighters, but eventually he moved on joining fellow jailbird Bobby Byrds vocal group, The Avons. This vocal group gradually became a solely Rhythm ‘n’ Blues outfit and changed their name to The Flames.

The Flames signed to King Records and straight away released ‘Please Please Please’ which sold well over a million copies. ‘Please Please Please’ landed at number 5 in the charts and it was a significant R&B hit. Soul music as well as R&B influences were present in this recording, vocal influences that James picked up from Ray Charles and Little Richard. James Brown often credited Little Richard and the Upsetters as being the first to add Funk to Rock ‘n’ Roll rhythms.

At this time the showmanship of Little Richard influenced James Brown greatly along with the Upsetters sax lead sound. In February 1959 James Brown – now with the newly named Famous Flames – had a number 1 hit in the R&B charts with ‘Try Me’ which became a national hit. The Famous Flames were not only a backing band but also vocal group which added more depth to the arrangements.

James Brown and the Famous Flames continued to lay down passion filled R&B recordings: ‘Chonnie-On-Chon’, ‘That Dood It’, ‘Begging Begging’, ‘I Don’t Mind’, ‘I Feel That Old Feeling Coming On’, ‘No No No’, ‘I Want You So Bad’,’ Doodle Bug’, ‘Baby You’re Right’, ‘Just Won’t Do Right’.

As the Sixties progressed the music of James Brown gradually moved from the Rhythm ‘n’ Blues and Soul mix and produced a mixture which included Funk with songs like ‘Papa’s got a Brand New Bag’ ,’ Get Up Offa That Thing’, ‘Night Train’ and such. James Brown was Soul Brother Number 1 for sure but funky as hell too!

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